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A Publication of THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
Faculty Council: President Larry R. Faulkner, council members discuss free speech issues at Oct. 15 meeting
By John R. Durbin
Free speech issues arising in the aftermath of the events of Sept. 11 occupied most of the Faculty Council's attention at its meeting on Oct. 15.
The council approved a resolution offered by the Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility (see below, Freedom, Responsibility, and Dignity). The resolution was introduced by Janet Staiger (radio-television-film), chair of the committee, who said the committee also was working with the administration on guidelines relating to free speech on the campus.
The discussion of free speech began with a question sent to President Larry R. Faulkner from Barbara Harlow (English). Harlow asked the president to discuss his and the University's policy and philosophy for dealing with "dissent" at the university. She said the question arose partly from her concern at the president's "public response (in the Houston Chronicle) to the expression of political opinion and an analysis by one of the university's faculty members."
The reference was to a letter that appeared on Sept. 19, written in response to an editorial by Robert Jensen (speech communication), which was published in the Houston Chronicle on Sept. 14. The editorial and the letter can be found on the Faculty Council Website.
In answering, Faulkner said, "the university's policy is what it has been for decades, which is to provide both staunch support for freedom of expression and an environment in which free expression can occur."
Faulkner added, "In the wake of Professor Jensen's publication in the Houston Chronicle, his preceding comments on radio, and his subsequent television appearance on the Fox network, I received a flood of e-mail messages, letters and telephone calls, many measured and articulate, nearly all posing questions to me. Very often, I was asked to define my personal views about Jensen's arguments and positions. I do not believe that I have the latitude simply to ignore inquiries from the people of this state about their university or about my views on a matter that is of high concern to them. I also do not believe that I can fabricate a response. Perhaps a private university president would have more freedom to avoid engagement.
"As president," Faulkner said, "I am obligated to do my best to maintain a spirit of community, but I am not obligated to the pretense that all ideas and all arguments have equal merit.
"My overriding obligation is to defend the university as an island of free debate and expression. I did what I thought was necessary in that direction. Please let me recall the closing two sentences in the published letter, which read as follows: 'But I also must defend the freedom granted to all citizens under the First Amendment. It is the bedrock of American liberty.' "
Harlow asked that a letter she had sent to the president, just before submitting the question, be entered as part of the record. She then read the letter, in which she wrote that she "read with dismay the letter you took it upon yourself to write to the Houston Chronicle in reply to Professor Robert Jensen's editorial published in that same paper. Your remarks reflect badly on the university's professed pursuit of excellence in critical thinking and educated public debate. Between the opening and closing sentences of your letter, in which you include a perfunctory invocation of the First Amendment, you deliver yourself of an ad hominem invective against a member of our university community and a colleague."
The full text of the letter will be appended to the official minutes of the Oct. 15 meeting.
The president replied, "I think I've made my response, and I won't make any further response." No one commented on the question and remarks by Harlow, or on the president's response.
Discussion of the resolution
In addition to Staiger's introductory statement about the resolution approved by the council, only three members spoke about the issue.
Dana Cloud (communication studies) said she favored the resolution in general, but was concerned about the American Association of University Professors' (AAUP) statement that, as scholars and educational officers, teachers "should exercise appropriate restraint" when they speak and write as citizens. Who would define "appropriate restraint," she asked? She said that "a number of people in my own academic community and my own political community" believed Jensen's comments showed appropriate restraint, but that "President Faulkner's exercised much less restraint." She acknowledged that others would disagree.
Thomas Palaima (classics) said he was opposed to changing the language of the AAUP statement as Cloud had suggested. He believed Jensen had said many of the right things in his editorial, but thought that he should learn how to phrase them better; he added that "you just don't say certain things like that two or three days after a nationwide funeral." Palaima also said he found nothing wrong with the president's letter. He concluded by saying: "So, I think if we just tone down the emotional level of both letters, we get two appropriate plays of discourse, so I can sleep well at night being a colleague of both Bob Jensen and Larry Faulkner."
Robert Koons (philosophy) said he opposed the resolution. He thought it showed a "certain presumptuousness" for the Faculty Council to give moral admonitions to the university community at large. He also was concerned that it did not address any specific incidents. He said if it was intended to be applied to any specific example, then it should say so.
The resolution then was approved by voice vote.
Other remarks by the president
Faulkner said because of the events that had begun on Sept. 11, the administration had been looking at all aspects of the way security was managed on the campus. This included the security of information systems, materials, special facilities, events and research activities. He said the campus police had been working extremely hard since Sept. 11, often putting in 16-hour days per person during that period.
Faulkner reviewed some remarks from his State of the University Address concerning the university's endowment. He said the university receives only about 45 percent of the University of Texas System's two-thirds share of income from the Permanent University Fund. That corresponds to an endowment of approximately $2.4 billion. The university's private endowment now is about $1.6 billion. Faulkner said he is setting a goal of increasing the private endowment by $1 billion, which, by the time the funds could be raised, would mean the private endowment would match the public endowment. He emphasized that this was in addition to the target set for the capital campaign, and would not be raised by the end of that campaign. He said the university could not maintain its standing and achieve its goals without that level of support.
In response to a question from Gretchen Ritter (government, not a member of the council), the president said he had been in contact with senators Hutchinson and Gramm to express his strong opposition to a freeze on student visas, which had been proposed by some. He said the country's graduate programs, research programs and programs of cultural exchange would be devastated by even a six-month moratorium on such visas.
Council Chair Bruce Palka (mathematics) reported on issues being watched by the University of Texas System Faculty Advisory Council, including transfer credit, assessment/accountability and compliance. Although these items generate little interest among most members of the faculty, they can have serious long-term consequences for the functioning and independence of the university.
Resolution on 'Freedom, Responsibility, and Dignity'
1.) That all members of the university community students, faculty, staff and administrators be reminded of the principles involving Academic Freedom and Responsibility as stated by the American Association of University Professors in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, including:
a.) "The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition."
b.) "College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak and write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution."
2.) That these principles of Academic Freedom and Responsibility be widely disseminated to the university community via e-mail and in The Daily Texan so that all students, faculty, staff and administrators have these statements as guiding principles for discourse on campus and extramurally.
3.) That the members of the academic community treat one another with dignity in both their words and actions during the days ahead.
(Adopted by the Faculty Council on Oct. 15, 2001.)